The Paradox of Christianity and Slavery
The attitudes that White Christians had towards the Blacks and slavery over the last century is among the most disturbing religious life’s aspects. The White Christians who believed in the practice and teachings of loving other human beings just the way God shows love for them all were practicing slavery. They involved themselves in slave trade and they had been unable to bring it to an end or to reduce its nature which was demeaning. Although the White Christians knew the teachings of Christianity which include love to humanity and God, holiness, justice and mercy, they did not consider the evils that slavery entailed and suppression that it had on the Blacks. This term paper will argue the Paradox of Christianity and Slavery.
Theological explanations were used in justifying the slavery institution and its existence despite having practices that contradicted the teachings of Christianity. These contradictions demonstrate the entire paradox of slavery and Christianity. This paper aims at exploring this paradox by considering the works done by W.E.B Du Bois and Fredrick Douglass. These were some of the African Americans to strongly criticize the contraction that was presented by the perception of the whites towards slavery on the basis of religion.
A paradox may be seen as something or situation that comprises of two things that oppose each other such that even when they seem impossible, they might be possible or true (Sultana 144). In the slavery and Christianity paradox, the whites were aware that the blacks were being hurt by slavery but they focused on specific biblical teachings selectively to justify it. Prominent theologians including Charles Hodge from Princeton justified slavery using a theological justification. This justification indicated that the Old Testament allowed slavery since it was a divine command while the New Testament forbids it. According to Hodge, declaring that slavery is a crime that is wicked is similar to impeaching the word of God since slavery is consistent with Christianity teachings. The whites believed that slavery was not wrong. This belief was hypocritical since it was a contradiction of the moral principles as well as values that are taught by Christianity which include mercy, justice, love for humanity and God as well as holiness.
Frederick Douglas was a literate black American who ran away from slavery. He tried to explore slavery and Christianity relationship in his work. Douglass observed that slave masters who were new Christian converts were the worst slave masters. This is because they were given religious support and sanctions by the religion. This supported their cruelty. Slaveholders had been convinced by religion that slavery was not wrong and that it was supported by God. This gave them the authority that they needed to abuse, oppress and murder slaves (Lee para 10). However, they ignored Christianity teachings that require masters to avoid treating their slaves badly. Douglass criticized the Blacks who believed that they were required to submit to their masters by God.
According to him, slave holders were untrue Christians since they did not follow Christian teachings by yielding to the interests of this earth to get eternal justice. Douglass noted that oppression and slavery’s foundation is the pride, greed and power of man. He argued that Christianity of Christ and the world Christianity are different. While Christ Christianity is pure, holy and good, world Christianity is wicked, corrupt and bad (Hughes 114). Slave owners were followers of the world Christianity and this was a false type of Christianity. As such, these were not true Christians. The belief of Douglass was that there can never be a co-existence of slavery and true Christianity. He acknowledged the fact that slavery introduction had high potential of corrupting Christianity (Smith para 2). The perspective of Douglass in regards to Christianity coexistence with slavery was true since Christ did not depict any form of cruelty to his followers and disciples. Slave owners did not practice the basic principles of Christianity which are mercy, justice and love. This is because slave owners were brutal to them and they declined to pay them. They used slaves to advance themselves economically at their expense. According to Christianity teachings, a person should love his/her neighbor before claiming to love God since they have never seen Him physically.
The paradox of racial oppression and Christianity is also highlighted in W.E.B Du Bois’ work. Du Bois was born in Massachusetts in 1868. He was a Black American historian, sociologist as well as an activist who fought for civil rights. Du Bois was the pioneer or the first Black to earn a PhD degree from the Harvard University. He wrote a book entitled, The World and Africa which demonstrates the contradictory statements of Jan Smuts, the South Africa Prime Minister in 1945 when South Africa was experiencing racial segregation. According to Smut, every white man in South Africa with a sound mind believed that blacks should be suppressed.
Later, Smut pleaded in a conference of the United Nations that a human rights article be incorporated in the Charter of the United Nations. This depicted paradoxical thinking since Smuts was not supportive of the blacks’ rights in South Africa which he was heading yet he advocated for the inclusion of the article on the same human rights in the Charter of the United Nations. Smuts did not acknowledge the truth that blacks in South Africa also needed similar human rights.
Using the Smuts’ case, Du Bois illustrates a contradiction of the freedom concept of the whites. To them, freedom is seen as a concept that should apply only to the whites. They temporarily exclude the blacks in South Africa on the basis of racial grounds. It is clear that Smuts knows the essence of human rights globally but he opts to ignore the same human rights in South Africa. His actions are aimed at allowing whites in South Africa to continue their oppression on the blacks so that they can exploit them further. To justify blacks’ oppression in South Africa, Smuts employed racial prejudice. At the same time, he advocated for global human rights. Therefore, Smuts was aware that the black people in South Africa had their human rights. However, he chose to ignore their plight and instead, he employed racial prejudice that the whites had in justifying the oppression.
The political and social values of the Americans were significantly affected by slavery. The irresponsible and corrupt powers that slave owners had over the slaves and the deteriorating social values lowered the morals of the Americans. There were slave owners who used this power to rape female slaves and in committing adultery. Thus, they sired children with the slaves. This posed a threat to the unity that existed between the slave and the owners’ families since the fathers of the children of these slaves were compelled to continue punishing their children or to sell them as slaves. Such cases led to resentments among the wives of slave owners and they could lead to cruelty against husbands or children of the slaves or divorce cases.
Slaves’ families were also affected by slavery more so the children because they were separated. They were in most cases sold to different slave owners. Social stratification also increased in American due to slavery since large plantations’ owners were able to get massive wealth from the use of free labor. White people with fewer slaves accumulated less wealth and they end up being in the lower social class. There were also slaves who had better lives than some of the whites who were poor. This implies that slavery led to an increase in racial prejudices in America among the whites who were poor. Social evils that included Blacks lynching emerged. Slaves who were suspected to have committed crimes were not subjected to fair trials. The class of the blacks was the lowest in the American society and they were followed by poor whites who did not own slaves. Racial oppression and racism that was caused by slavery impacted on the cultural and social values of slaves because they were required to embrace cultural behaviors and values that their masters valued. Racism can also cause economic exploitation and racial oppression.
Additionally, racism can cause inferiority or superiority feelings among the people whose races vary. This can create power relations with one race trying to impose authority over a racial group that is considered inferior. Brutality and threats are usually employed by the dominant race in oppressing the other. Resistance attempts are faced with brutality. This causes racial oppression and it can be used to exploit one group for economic gains of the dominant group. Racial stereotypes’ internalization, ideologies and values that a dominating race perpetuates about a specific racial group may cause disgust, disrespect and self-doubt of self or one’s race (Pyke 553). When people experience such feelings psychologically, they can easily accept oppression by the other groups because they see it as worth or legitimate.
Establishment of ranks in the societies that have different racial groups may be used in allocating economic resources, social incentives, opportunities and access (Carter 18). The low ranking racial groups can be oppressed by dominating races when these resources, opportunities and rewards are distributed unfairly within the society. The dominant racial group can control production means and this include denying the inferior racial groups the rights to own land. This can make the inferior racial group reliance on the dominant group for survival. Such reliance or dependence can be characterized by the economic exploitation which racial oppression sustains.
Political values of America were also impacted on by slavery since it caused the creation of the abolitionist movements. These agitated for the immediate abolition of slavery. According to these movements, slavery violated humanity’s natural rights as well as the United States’ constitution that considered all individuals equal. Slavery expansion into the nation’s new frontiers by the people who owned slaves on the southern side was opposed by the northern states. Slavery became a debate issue between Abraham Lincoln of the northern frontier and Stephen Douglass of the Southern frontier.
Abraham Lincoln emerged victorious in the presidential election of 1860and this divided the US along these sectional lines. The fear of the south slave owners was that the Republicans and President Lincoln intended to abolish slavery across the US. They were worried that freeing slave posed a problem to slave owners and the economy of their states because they acquired massive profits from the use of unpaid labor. Seven states in the southern region withdrew their membership from the US union before Lincoln assumed office forming the Confederate States of America. President Lincoln opted to employ military force in 1861 to end the southerners’ rebellion and to unite the country.
At the beginning of the civil war, four states also withdrew to become members of the Confederate States. Lincoln abolished slavery throughout the nation at the time of the war. A Confederate sympathizer who was supporting slavery killed President Lincoln on 14th April 1865 during the war. The Confederate States later surrendered to Union forces bringing the war to an end. The nation unified again and on 6th December 1865 slavery was abolished officially after ratifying the United States constitution’s Thirteen Amendment. Slavery was ended and Blacks were now allowed to participate in different political processes including voting.
Evidently, Christian whites deliberately committed most injustices to the blacks despite the fact that they were against the Christianity principles. Christian whites followed biased beliefs and teachings which justified oppression on the basis of racial backgrounds. They knew the injustices that they committed but they opted to manipulate Christian teachings and situations in order to justify what they were doing. This depicts the paradox of slavery and Christianity.
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Lee, Adam. “The Connection between Religion and Slavery.” Patheos, 27 Sept. 2010. Web. 5 Nov. 2013.
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